We should have known better. Take politicians’ encouragement for diesels, then about-facing to say no diesels are really bad. They never say oh we’ve changed our mind or anything and Very Sorry. Boris and the rest of them are quite impenitent, They are going to charge diesels more whenever they get the chance.
It was so predictable. It’s not simply that politicians are self-serving, we can all be self-serving, but they just look so stupid. There seemed to be votes in going along with diesels in the 1990s when they could sell them on the back of “environmental” opinion. They may even have thought they were doing the “right” thing. People voting for them maybe believed it too. We in the media told them, quite often as it happens 25-30 years ago, that they were barking up a wrong tree. I liked diesels. They didn’t need sparks and electricity, which always gave trouble in the cars I could afford but they were never clean. Diesel was a byword for soot and smoke.
We, and I mean in this case me and many others, were far more convinced about the merit of lean-burn petrol engines rather than the catalytic converters about which lobbyists had convinced the politicos. It was the same with diesels. They’re sooty, we told them. Particulates are bad and you’ll be sorry, which they now are of course even though they can’t use the word. They listened to noble metals lobbyists and “environmentalists” panicking about global warming and CO2.
The “greenhouse effect” had been scary for years. In the 1960s I suppose, I had read a cautionary paper about it written by somebody I respected. I half-believed in it myself. There were motor industry people I trusted who apparently believed in it as well. I felt obliged to take it seriously and it was years before it became apparent that it was the greatest scientific fraud in the history of the planet.
It wasn’t so much that I was in denial about global warming, as increasingly sceptical about the alarmist messages over its cause. In the 1980s I remained open-minded. But what the reality was, as revealed to me years later by the head of research at Mercedes-Benz, was that industry engineers were only acknowledging a movement bound to enrapture politicians, much as they had in the Los Angeles smogs of the 1950s. The motor industry knew it would have to pay lip-service to greenery and for decades it was forced to continually reinvent “solutions” to appease political vanity. Engineers, it turns out, were more concerned with meeting the demands of legislatures than ever they were about man-made global panic-mongering.
Dr Thomas Weber was a member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG, and responsible for Group Research & Mercedes-Benz cars’ development. He told me Daimler was spending €4.4 billion every year guessing what wheeze the politicians would decide on next. Throughout Europe they were obsessed with climate change or safety or whatever cause celebre lobbyists were coming up with.
And now, with diesels, they have changed their mind. Why am I not surprised?
Pictures (top): Not a diesel 1. 1940 BMW 328, tall 2 litre with three downdraught carburettors. OZ80 on cam cover denotes racing engine of Mille Miglia car I drove on Scottish event. (right)
First production diesel car, Mercedes-Benz 260D 1936-1939. (left) And its engine. (Below) Not a diesel 2 Mercedes-Benz test track, Unterturkheim, not as scary as it looks, I drove identical car here with test driver instructing precisely on speed and place on the banking.